Festival Director Ben Hill was interviewed for LA Stage Times and spoke about the new programs that this Kickstarter will be funding.
Party With the Fringe on Top
The third annual Hollywood Fringe Festival, acelebration of theater and other performing arts that centers on Hollywood’s theater row, is…almost in session. According to the event’s director and founder Ben Hill, this year’s festival promises to be bigger and better than ever when it rolls out next week, starting with press previews (open to the public) June 7–12. Following the annual kickoff bash June 13, festival performances and special events will take place June 14–24. Many Hollywood theaters will host wide-ranging fare—staged by established companies, newer or debuting companies, and independent participants throwing their hats into the ring.
Planning and preparation for the annual event occurs almost year-round. Hill, an indefatigable showman who previously founded and produced the Hatchery Festival for emerging playwrights in Washington, D.C., chuckles at the suggestion that the June 2011 fest must seem as close as yesterday to him. “You have no idea,” he says. “It felt like we put our feet up for about three and a half minutes. Now we’re back at it again. We have been expanding things a lot, and this has posed additional challenges, so we’re actually working harder this year.” The Fringe’s 18 staff members donate their services, a situation Hill hopes will change as the festival grows and can afford to pay salaries. The budget for this year’s festival is close to a half million dollars. Thankfully, attendance continues to grow. “I believe we sold about 20,000 tickets last year,” he says. “So far, they are selling at twice that rate.”
Alongside networking mixers, parties, a panel of a cross-section of theater folk, and other special attractions, there is once again a film program (introduced last year). The theatrical fare encompasses comedy, drama, musicals, opera and cabaret. The mix includes solo plays, children’s shows, and plenty of pieces that might be termed experimental or downright indefinable, living up to the “fringe” designation. Anything and everything goes, says Hill.
Several of the city’s established 99-Seat companies are again participating—such as Open Fist Theatre, Theatre of NOTE, Theatre Unleashed and Mutineer Theatre. Joining them are ambitious independent theater artists and fledgling companies eager to showcase their talents in a low-cost, no-frills environment.
“A really exciting new company this year is Fierce Backbone,” says Hill by way of example, “headed by managing director Victoria Watson and showcasing performer Jeffrey Wylie, known for his drag character, Lyla KaRug. This group has done some smaller things in the past, but they decided to use the Fringe to launch their company, and they’re doing it with six registered shows.”
The festival is a promising place for aspiring theater groups or independent artists to introduce themselves, gaining exposure to many local theatergoers while meeting other local artists and producers. According to Hill, the Fringe environment allows participants to take risks and try things that might otherwise be too expensive. “We’ve been called LA’s only real open market for theater, which is great. I take this asa personal compliment.”
Hey, Mr. Producer
Hill, who made the jump from actor to producer and enjoyed it so much he never went back, says he believes Los Angeles greatly needs a larger core of dedicated producers. He contends the Fringe could play an important role in educating and developing a new group of talented impresarios. He recounts, “A new producer came up to me during our town hall and said, ‘I’ve been an actor with my one-person show and did lots of plays, but I’ve never been in an environment where I really needed to learn how to be a producer. Here I actually have the people and tools available to help me get started.’” Hill and his staff provide plenty of administrative support and expertise to help the registrants handle general organizational issues and problems that might arise.
He cites Theatre Unleashed and Coeurage Theatre as two of several companies that got their starts at the festival. He also points out the rapid success of Lost Moon Radio, which won the Fringe’s comedy award last year and hosted the LA Weekly Awards this year to great acclaim. “I think they really found their community when they came to the Fringe,” he observes.
This year features a new Fringe standup-comedy program and a music lineup. “We did a lot of standup the first year, but not as much the second year,” Hill says. “This year, we’re having about 60 standup comics as part of the new program, as well as adding an improv program.” For the Fringe music program, bands will play every night, featuring genres from classical to surf punk. Also returning is the live-band karaoke that Hill reports was popular last year.
In place of the outdoor tents on the Artworks Theatre lot that dominated Fringe Central last year, the new Fringe headquarters is within “a beautiful two-story building with a wide-open floor plan,” says Hill. The building is located at the corner of Vine Street and Santa Monica Boulevard next to the Elephant theater complex and Theatre Asylum. Cabaret performances, well-received last year in the meeting area at Fringe Central, will be located downstairs in the new facility.
“At the top 15 minutes of every hour, participants will do snippets of their shows, songs and bits,” says Hill. “Some magicians will also do their thing. On Monday and Tuesday nights, basically the whole night is cabaret, sort of a best-of-Fringe thing.” Downstairs is the concierge station, where the Fringe staff can answer questions for attendees. “Obviously, we can’t do recommendations of shows among our registrants,” the festival director says, “but we might glean from them what might interest them and give them some options on what they might want to see.”
Popular events have returned. Hill says, “We have the opening party and closing party, and the awards event. We’re also hosting Xela Batchelder, who is offering a workshop on how to take your show to the Edinburgh theater festival.” He also cites a couple of technical workshops and an industry networking brunch among the attractions.
Other Fringe Benefits
According to Hill, recognition of Hollywood Fringe Festival is rapidly growing in the fringe festival culture across the globe. He says he believes that the annual LA event is helping to gradually eliminate what he calls “the elephant in the room,” namely the longtime misperception that LA is merely a film town. As a result, he says, LA theater artists have developed a stronger dedication: “Some of the most earnest, sincere, hardworking theater people I’ve ever met are here. There’s no pretentiousness or snobbery here. I think in the future, within the next 15 years, we’re going to have a very healthy theater town with an international reputation. That’s a mission we really want to advance.”
The continuing growth of the festival should help it come closer to its goals. “Last year we had 200 individual productions; the first year about 165,” he says. “This year we expect to be above last year, though not by leaps and bounds. We’re going to break 1,000 total performances for the first time.”
Expanding Borders Yet Remaining the Same
The geographic area of Fringe performing venues has been expanded slightly beyond last year’s. The eastern edge will now go as far as Underground Theatre on Wilton. “It’s a beautiful place, perfect for our needs,” says Hill. “But the northern border of Franklin, the western border of La Brea, and the southern border of Melrose remains the same.” Hill says up to 40 percent of the venues are hosting one show, and about 60 percent are hosting two or more shows. The majority of festival activity will cluster around Theater Asylum, Open Fist’s lounge, and The Complex, at the hub of theatre row, where patrons can easily go from one show or event to the next.
Beyond Fringe Central, other buildings in the vicinity will house Fringe events and customer-service functions. Open Fist Theatre’s mainstage will serve as the central box-office facility. A few blocks away on Cahuenga Boulevard, Theatre of NOTE will be the Fringe black-box space, hosting one-person shows, cabarets, and intimate fare. Elephant Studio will be the home of the film program. “We’re even renting a parking lot this year, directly across from Open Fist,” Hill says, chuckling. “I don’t know what we know about running parking lots, but we’re going to try.”
The festival remains uncurated with two qualifiers, says Hill: “If you have an event within the geographic boundaries, the Fringe will turn no one away. But you need to find a venue, and sometimes those individual venues curate. For example, Artworks Theatre is basically focusing on cabaret and physical theater this year, so that’s what they’re looking for, as opposed to, say, The Complex, which is a first-come, first-served situation.”
The film program is curated, but registrants can book film showings outside of the organized film program if they book a venue. The program is headed by Ezra Buzzington, a founder of Fringe New York City, one of the few fringe festivals that curates all its shows. Says Hill, “Ezra was the leading advocate of that policy, simply because there was so much to see in New York that you needed to somehow stand out. In LA, Ezra said, ‘Wait, because we’re in LA, we need to curate film because there’s so much of it out here.’ Yet, our philosophy, which will never change, is 100 percent uncurated fare. It’s written in blood into our mission statement.”
For youth-friendly fare—in addition to the Fringe Family programming, introduced last year—the festival’s Student Fringe will sponsor field trips for middle school and high school students, who will be bused to the festival to view special programs. Says Hill, “I remember when I was a kid in middle school, I went on a field trip to see Our Town. I remember the effect it had on me. Those field trips got me interested in theater. So we’d like to do the same thing.”
In planting the seeds for a new generation of Fringe fanatics, Hill is doing his part to make LA a theater town for decades.
For complete details on the Hollywood Fringe Festival—including shows and venues, tickets and special events—visit www.hollywoodfringe.org.
***All photos by Rich Clark, except where noted
seconds to go
Pledge $5 or moreYou selected
Donate $5 to $24 and you get a 2012 Hollywood Fringe Button and a thank you on the Hollywood Fringe website. The Fringe Button gets you $1 off all ticket purchases sold through the Fringe, $1 off every drink at Fringe Central Station (Hollywood Fringe's bar), and access to our Hotspot program.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $25 or moreYou selected
Donate $25 to $49 and you get your Fringe Button, sticker, 2 free drinks at Fringe Central Station and an exclusive piece of Hollywood Fringe merchandise!Estimated delivery:
Pledge $50 or moreYou selected
Donate $50 to $99 and your name will go into the 2013 Fringe Guide as one of our Kickstarter Sponsors along with 2 free tickets to a night of Fringe [film]! You also get your Fringe Button, Fringe merch, and 2 free drink tickets.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $100 or moreYou selected
Donate $100 to $499 and you get an awesome Hollywood Fringe T-shirt! Your name will also be in the 2013 Fringe Guide along with 2 free tickets of 2 nights of Fringe [film], your Fringe Button, Fringe merch and FOUR free drink tickets.Estimated delivery:
Pledge $500 or moreYou selected
Donate $500 - $999 and your name will be a drink special at the bar at Fringe Central Station! You will also get TWO T-shirts, your name in the Fringe Guide, 2 tickets to every night of Fringe [Film], your Fringe Button, Fringe Merch, and four free drinks for EVERY night of the Hollywood Fringe!Estimated delivery:
Pledge $1,000 or moreYou selected
The Best is saved for last! You get a 15 second jingle created about you by Helen Hayes award Nominee David McKeever! You can also shadow one of the Fringe Staff for a night. You get your named Drink Special, two T-shirts, name in the Fringe Guide, 2 tickets to every night of Fringe [film], your Fringe Button, Fringe merch, and four free drinks for every night of the Hollywood Fringe.Estimated delivery:
- (30 days)